New Haggadot bring fresh takes to the table

Jews sit around the seder table every Passover and use a book called the haggadah for guidance through the story of the Exodus. While some purists may prefer a traditional text, Jews are increasingly adding haggadot to their tables that reflect the Passover story through different lenses — from contemporary social justice activism and feminism to pop culture and humor.

Here are some of this year’s new haggadot and supplements.

“For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them” by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach.

Anyone familiar with the pedigree of the authors likely would expect this small volume to include more irreverence and humor than education, and they would be correct. Barry has written humorous newspaper columns for more than 30 years; Zweibel wrote for “Saturday Night Live,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”; and Mansbach wrote the book “Go the F— to Sleep” and the screenplay for “Barry.” They draw on their collective and diverse humor experience to retell the Passover story. The narrative, thematically based on the order of the seder, includes a surprising number of “Godfather” references, including the burning issue of which of the Four Questions was asked — and why — by each and of Vito Corleone’s four children, Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie.

“The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah” by Moshe Rosenberg.

pass-hag-hogwartsThe rabbi, educator and author of “Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter” takes the Passover story out for a wizardly whirl, comparing the Boy Who Lived to the original iconoclast, Abraham. This haggadah also points out contrasts between what it means to be Voldemort’s “most faithful servant” and what it means to be a servant of God in Jewish texts, and parallels between the Exodus narrative and Harry’s emergence from the Muggle world (where he was forced to live in a room under the stairs) into a world of wizardry and freedom.

“From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel: The 3,000-Year Journey of the Jewish People” by StandWithUs (

pass-hag-3000This haggadah “not only teaches about the suffering during slavery and miraculous exodus from Egypt, it also celebrates the 3,000-year-old connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel,” StandWithUs co-founder Jerry Rothstein told the Journal, pointing to “original artwork, traditional text in Hebrew and English, and stirring quotes, all meant to inspire people of all ages about the Jewish connection to our ancestral homeland, Israel.” The center pages are full-color depictions of Israel as a place for Jews who “barely survived, but never lost hope.” It charts the journey from modern Israel’s emergence after the Holocaust and the 1948 War of Independence through the intifadas, culminating in Israel’s modern identity as “Startup Nation.” It also includes readings from a variety of sources, including Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Shimon Peres and Mark Twain.

“AJWS Global Justice Haggadah: Next Year in a Just Worldby the American Jewish World Service (

pass-hag-world (1)American Jewish World Service (AJWS) this year focuses its haggadah on connecting the traditional story of Passover, with its narrative arc of slavery, to freedom and the social activism responsibility of contemporary American Jews. For example, the four cups of wine are meant to symbolize a four-part framework for social justice activism: awakening, solidarity, action and freedom. The collection of sources contains original readings, discussion questions and quotes from leading Jewish public figures, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and actor Mandy Patinkin.

“The Four People” by Repair the World and the Jewish Multiracial Network (

pas-fourpeopleThis Passover supplement is meant to spur challenging and meaningful conversations on racial justice. In presenting four people, all on their own racial justice journeys, questions reflect multiple perspectives, various backgrounds, different races and different ages. Through the lens of “What would a questioner/newcomer/Jew of color/avoider say?” the supplement tackles some of today’s activism challenges, examining how people can move toward equality if the tactics and strategies used by racial justice movements make them uncomfortable, how newcomers engage with marginalized communities, and how to overcome fear and start conversations about race.

 HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Haggadah supplement (

pass-hag-suppIn light of the debate over President Donald Trump’s executive orders banning refugees, the HIAS supplement focuses on the international refugee experience, relating it to the story of Jews fleeing slavery and searching for safety. Through readings, activities and a guide to aid people in refugee advocacy, it incorporates stories from some of the thousands of refugees HIAS has helped resettle across the United States, and encourages seder participants to identify their own opinions and to work toward creating a group narrative.

Do It Yourself:

pass-hag-diyThose who prefer their own mix of readings and activities on various themes can cull custom content for personalized haggadot on Site founder Eileen Levinson said that this year marks a considerable rise in feminist, activist and political content on the site, where users can create, upload and share their content with others. Some recently uploaded examples of this year’s content include the Beyonceder, a mashup of Beyoncé lyrics and Passover images; updates to the “Women’s Seder Haggadah,” including text and images about and from the Women’s Marches in January; and the creation of the Baltimore Social Justice Seder, focusing on criminal justice reforms and racial bias in incarceration.

A sampling of this year’s haggadot

Every year, a sea of a new haggadot vies for our attention, money and a seat at our seder table. In the hope of helping you sort through this year’s crop, here are five of this year’s most compelling new entries.

“Asufa Haggadah, 2015”
by Asufa Collective
Print-O-Craft, $28

The Israeli art and design collective Asufa works mostly on slickly designed consumer gadgets, such as Spredo, a tool for evenly salting and buttering your corn on the cob. But Asufa has also produced a new haggadah for the last three Passovers. Available for the first time this year through a U.S. distributor, the 2015 installment comprises the work of more than 40 artists, each contributing a two-page spread. Clashing visual styles mimic the riot of voices and generations reflected in the text, which itself is part of the art in its placement, shape and style of font. One spread is dominated by a Candy Land-esque board game festooned with cartoonish Egyptian deities acting out the seder. In another spread, the lyrics to “Echad Mi Yodea?” (“Who Knows One?”) are an intricate arrangement of white words and letters twinkling like stars across a black background. “Asufa Haggadah” is a stunning mishmash of artistic sensibilities, each spread a feast for the eyes. But Anglophones beware: The classic Hebrew text does not include an English translation.

“The Gateways Haggadah: A Seder for the Whole Family”
by Rebecca Redner
Behrman House, $9.95

From the Boston-area Jewish special-education agency Gateways comes “The Gateways Haggadah,” which is designed to make the seder experience more accessible for and inclusive of members of the Jewish community with special educational needs. The haggadah features a “translation” of key passages and instructions into a symbolic communication system developed by special-needs technology producer Mayer-Johnson. These colorful little ideograms can be arranged in sequence to represent almost any text. There is insightful material here for seder participants of any experience level, whatever their needs. For example, “The Gateways Haggadah” joins the venerable tradition of putting a unique spin on the four sons of the Passover story by depicting them as four children with differing emotional and cognitive needs. It is not hard to imagine “The Gateways Haggadah” quickly becoming indispensable in Jewish families, day schools and synagogue religious schools in search of greater inclusion of children with educational needs.

“The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah”
by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
Gefen Publishing, $19.95 (hardcover), $12.95 (paperback)

“The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah” is the first liturgical work produced under the banner of Open Orthodoxy, a movement within Modern Orthodoxy toward greater social and intellectual openness, inclusion and liberalism. The text includes discussions on topics like the importance of placing more maharats — women ordained as all-but-rabbis by Open Orthodoxy’s Yeshivat Maharat — in synagogues and calls to free agunot, “chained women” whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce decree, or get. There is meaty commentary from leading Open Orthodox figures on everything from disabilities inclusion to fertility challenges. The small paperback version — its aesthetic aspirations modest — harkens back to the ideology-asserting, Movement-with-a-capital-M liturgies of the early and mid-20th century, especially Reform works such as “Gates of Prayer” and “The New Union Haggadah,” which took the opportunity to lay out a distinct vision for Jewish life. “Open Orthodox Haggadah” author Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. — was mentored by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who is credited with coining the term Open Orthodoxy. In the introduction, Herzfeld writes, “With Centrist Orthodoxy moving right and Conservative Judaism moving left … the seas are parting. In between is Open Orthodoxy, which must continue to carve out its own agenda.”

“Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada”
by Erica Brown
Koren Publishers, $24.95

Open Erica Brown’s “Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada” from the right and you have a haggadah; from the left, a book of essays. The haggadah side is peppered with conversational jumping-off points and commentaries from an eclectic array of sources, from the poet Yehuda Amichai to the classic young-adult writer Madeleine L’Engle to the Talmud. It’s easy to see what Brown, a writer and educator, means by “Conversational Haggada.” After some of Brown’s commentary on the symbolism of matzah, she asks, “What emotions beside hunger drive you to eat?” The essay side includes eight pieces — one for each day of Passover. The first, “Day One: All Who Are Hungry,” is the perfect reading material for the seder leader, a review of the Jewish cultural importance of hosting others in one’s home. Another essay dives deep into the little-known character of Moses’ wife, Tzipporah. Unfortunately, one is left wishing it were two separate books. The haggadah is rendered too heavy for use around the seder table by having the eight essays, wonderful in their own right, fused to its back.

“Canadian Haggadah Canadienne”
by Rabbi Adam Scheier and Richard Marceau
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, $20 (Canadian)

En quoi cette soirée se distin-guet-elle des autres soirs? Or, for the non-Francophones among us, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” On this night, perhaps, you’re using the first Canadian haggadah! Of course, haggadot have been produced before in Canada. After all, as this one tells us, Canadian Jewry is “the fourth largest Jewish community in the world.” But the “Canadian Haggadah Canadienne” is the first to focus on the history and culture of Canadian Jews. Compiled and edited by Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, and Richard Marceau, a former member of the Canadian House of Commons, the “Canadian Haggadah Canadienne” is trilingual — Hebrew, French and English — top to bottom. There is also a complete transliteration of the Hebrew text that will be intelligible to Anglophones and Francophones. This haggadah also combines an impressive array of archival photos documenting Canadian Jewish history, with an accessible modern commentary by the rabbinic lights of contemporary Canada. The slim, slickly produced volume is an engrossing and informative entry in a long tradition of haggadot that tells the story of one particular Jewish community alongside the story of Passover.

New Traditional Haggadot Reflect Freedom

Why is this Passover different than all other Passovers?

On most Passovers, it is the liberal Jewish denominations that seek to reinterpret the holiday traditions, often viewing them through the prism of contemporary struggles for civil rights and environmental preservation.

But this Passover, it is the more conservative wings of the Jewish community that are offering a fresh read on the haggadah.

Both the Orthodox Union and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, a spiritual home of some traditionalists within the Conservative movement, are touting new offerings in time for the holiday.

The OU has released a new haggadah based on the writings of the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, while Schechter has put out two new volumes, including one with a lengthy survey of ancient Passover rituals.

“The haggadah has been reinterpreted in every generation,” said Dr. Joshua Kulp, who authored the historical essay at the back of “The Schechter Haggadah” (Lambda, 2009). “I think that by studying the origins we come to understand where the customs that we’re observing today and where the text comes from.”

With upwards of three-quarters of American Jews attending a seder — more than the number who light Chanukah candles or fast on Yom Kippur, according to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey — Passover is likely the most observed of Jewish holidays. So it’s hardly a surprise that the haggadah, the traditional guidebook for the evening, is among the most frequently reinvented.

But while past years have seen volumes produced that read the Exodus story through a distinctly contemporary lens, the new spate of haggadot is far more oriented toward traditional sources, in particular excavating certain writings, themes, artworks and rituals that have been cast off or forgotten over the years.

The Soloveitchik haggadah, titled, “The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening” (KTAV, 2009), is the first production of the newly minted OU Press, which was established this year in part to disseminate Soloveitchik’s unpublished writings and lectures.

Edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kashrut supervision, the volume culls Soloveitchik’s lectures, notes and teachings to present a dense and learned commentary on the seder’s various components.

But while Soloveitchik is revered in part for breathing life into Modern Orthodoxy, with its marriage of ritual observance and engagement with the broader world, the haggadah is a pointed, if inadvertent, rejoinder to those who would re-imagine the seder in purely contemporary terms.

“The Rav’s teachings emphasized the centrality of Torah study to the seder night,” Genack writes in the introduction.

According to Genack, part of the challenge in producing the haggadah was in making the famously erudite Soloveitchik accessible. Readers will ultimately decide if he succeeded, but this haggadah is not for the faint of heart. Many pages have but a few lines of text accompanied by lengthy commentary.

By contrast, the two Schechter haggadot are both heavily infused with artwork. Kulp’s haggadah includes three sections: the traditional seder night service, a collection of more than 100 illustrations collected by Schechter President Rabbi David Golinkin, and a historical commentary by Kulp, a professor of Talmud and Jewish law.

“The history of the night is also the history of the books and the pictures that make up the night,” Kulp said. “Those things, I think, go together.”

The other Schechter release, “The Lovell Haggadah” (Lambda, 2008), was produced by rabbi and artist Matthew Berkowitz of Boca Raton, Fla. Berkowitz spent more than four years producing a new translation and commentary in addition to original art works inspired by the popular Moss Haggadah, produced by the artist David Moss in the 1980s.

Of course, the liberal Jewish world will not be entirely silent at this year’s seder. Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, who leads the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in New York, has published “The Liberated Haggadah” (Center for Cultural Judaism, 2006) a secular haggadah with a number of new rituals that depart significantly from the traditional service.

Schweitzer has introduced an orange to the seder plate, a symbol of openness and inclusivity that stresses the holiday’s universal message. The plagues have been modernized to reflect the concerns of the day, including AIDS, hunger, poverty and racism. Supplementing the traditional seder-ending songs, several of which Schweitzer re-wrote as secularized anthems, is the Civil Rights era stalwart, “We Shall Overcome.”

“The diversity of haggadahs,” Schweitzer said, “is itself an expression of freedom.”


A 1998 article about Chicago collector Stephen Durschslag’s haggadah collection set the number of different haggadot on his shelves at 4,500, increasing almost daily.

It’s probably impossible to know how many haggadot exist, but it’s obvious that for every Jew, there should be a haggadah that fits like a glove.

In Every Generation —

Escape and Survival

One of the few new haggadot this spring is a fascinating reminder of the parallels between our ancient and more recent past. A Survivor’s Haggadah (Jewish Publication Society, 2000) is a facsimile of a work written in 1945-46 by Lithuanian survivor/ teacher/ writer Yosef Dov Sheinson. Used during the first post-liberation Passover seder in Munich, in April 1946, the original booklet was found by editor Saul Touster of Brandeis among his father’s papers and serves as the source for this edition.

Professor Touster’s introduction and commentary are revealing and jarring, in keeping with the powerful words by Sheinson and the woodcuts by another survivor, Mikls Adler. To read of the DP camps and initial Allied political insensitivities is to be angered; to read Sheinson’s text indicting factionalism among the Jews within the camps (as among the Israelites in the desert) is to be bemused; to read of the roles played by Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner and other U.S. chaplains in “organizing” for the Saved Remnant is to be inspired; to trace through word and woodcut these dual stories of deliverance is to be moved beyond words.

Contemporary User-

Friendly Haggadot

A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah by Noam Zion and David Dishon (Shalom Hartman Institute, 1997) is especially designed to let you plan seder length to what your group can handle. Suggested thought questions, quotations from myriad sources, cartoons, and artwork from more formal sources are included, and the book is guaranteed to involve everyone.

Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, with rabbis Eugene Kohn and Ira Eisenstein, edited a breakthrough haggadah, The New Haggadah (Behrman House) for the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation in 1941. A 1999 Behrman House revision, prepared by an editorial committee of outstanding young rabbis and retitled The New American Haggadah, includes songs by Debbie Friedman and references to civil rights and other timely issues — and you’ll be able to read the typeface.

Among other fine and friendly table haggadot are the abridged Family Passover Haggadah by Elie M. Gindi (SPI Books), a real labor of love that incorporates illustrations from ancient illuminations to photographs to animation figures with ideas and questions scattered throughout.

Tents of Jacob and

Tongues of Exile

Haggadah from Four Corners of the Earth by Ben Cohen and Maya Keliner (1997) is recommended for families with multilingual guests, since it combines the Hebrew text with linear translations in English, Russian, Spanish and French. Nicely designed and certainly indicative of the diversity of Am Yisrael.

To obtain information on haggadot in Hebrew and other languages (e.g., Hebrew-Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish), go online to http://www.books Questions can be directed to This company is based in Israel, so don’t count on quick delivery. Check local sources first.